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Video footage—which captured the initial in-person exchange between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin—was posted to Facebook by the German Cabinet on Friday ahead of a scheduled closed door meeting later in the day. (Photo: Screenshot)

It's Settled: Trump Either Did or Did Not Accept Putin's Denial of Election Interference

Presidents met, but reliable account of discussion is absent

Andrea Germanos

President Donald Trump met with Russian leader Vladimir Putin Friday on the sidelines of the Group of 20 (G20) Summit in Hamburg, Germany, but what exactly was said remains unclear.

One point of clarity is that the meeting was much longer than scheduled, running for over 2 hours instead of 30 minutes.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, accompanied the two leaders for the meeting. The only other people present in the room were two translators--prompting criticism from some experts who say such an intimate meeting is not in the U.S.'s best interests.

According to Tillerson, Trump began the meeting "by raising the concerns of the American people" regarding alleged Russian interference in the U.S. elections. The two leaders, Tilerson told press after the meeting, had a "robust and lengthy exchange on the subject," and Trump "pressed President Putin on more than one occasion" on the issue, he added. Putin reportedly denied the allegation.

"The two leaders agreed that this is a substantial hindrance on the ability of us to move Russian-U.S. relationships forward and agreed to exchange further work 
regarding commitments of noninterference in the affairs of the United States and our democratic process as well as those of other countries," Tillerson told reporters. "So more work to be done in that regard."

In Lavrov's version of the meeting, Trump accepted Putin's denial of the allegations.

But, according to NBC News, Tillerson departed his briefing without answering whether or not that matched his understanding of the exchange.

The Washington Post notes that "[b]ecause reporters did not witness the presidents' talks firsthand, they have to rely on the accounts of the American and Russian officials in the room."

Given that situation, MSNBC's Chris Hayes said on Twitter:

David Graham similarly charges at The Atlantic: "with no single reliable version of what happened between Trump and Putin, there's effectively no truth about it at all." 

Trump and Putin also reportedly discussed North Korea, cybersecurity, and, terrorism and reached an agreement on a ceasefire in Syria. In that six-year conflict, Amnesty International said of Russia and the U.S., "Both countries and their allies are responsible for the deaths and injuries of hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children."

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